I read 14 by Peter Clines last year and really enjoyed it. The book had its flaws, but on the whole it was very entertaining. The Fold is set in the same universe, but he doesn’t describe it as a sequel. It takes place after the events of 14, and if you’ve read that you will catch a few connections, but it’s in no means required. I would still start there, personally, but I like to read things in order like that.
The main character in this, Mike Erikson, has an advanced eidetic memory. He can look back in his memory like he’s rewinding a video, analyzing frame by frame. Instead of using this skill to get ahead in life, he’s decided instead to stay in a small town to teach high school English. A noble pursuit, of course, but with a mind like that it’s a bit like Superman not fighting crime. His old college buddy, who now works with DARPA, has been trying to enlist him for years to no avail. At the beginning of the book, he arrives once again to convince Mike to take a job, but this time the offer is too interesting to refuse.
He has a team at DARPA who have discovered the secret to teleportation and are working to perfect the technology before going public. They are being very secretive, however, and it’s getting in the way of funding. He wants Mike to join their team and provide a report for the funding committee. Mike takes the job and tries to integrate with this team of cagey engineers. It then turns into a really fun science fiction mystery.
For the first half of this novel, I was equal parts angry and excited. I was enjoying the mystery of it all, and Clines does an excellent job with pacing the story and building characters you want to learn more about, but I had two problems. The first was that a major plot point, that was thankfully revealed midway through the book and not at the end, felt very obvious to me from early on, so every hint and question related to it, of which there were many, became incredibly grating. In the last novel I felt like I was learning about the mystery along with the characters, but for a chunk of this novel I was waiting for the characters to catch up, which just isn’t as fun.
The second problem was that every character on this team of engineers was so emotionally over the top. I get that they were wary of outsiders and on edge, but they came across as unbelievably unprofessional and immature. Mike was being painfully accommodating, and they were consistently condescending and quick-tempered. No one is that salty. I’ve known some miserable human beings, and none of them were that salty. It just got old so quickly and made the interactions between the characters feel so false at times.
From a high level, this novel is surprisingly similar in plot structure to 14, while sharing its strengths and suffering from similar problems. Enough was different to keep it fresh for me, though. I really enjoyed Mike Erikson, the main character. He reminds me a little of Stephen Leeds from Brandon Sanderson’s Legion series. I think I just love genius protagonists. Maybe it’s a bit of wish fulfillment on my part, but it helps explain those leaps in logic that are prevalent in mystery novels, and it’s interesting what authors come up with to explain how they cope with their genius.
Peter Clines can really write an entertaining story, so I’ll be keeping an eye out for his next novel. I hope he experiments a little with it and comes up with some fresh ideas, or at least takes this idea further. 14 ended with a teaser of what could be a really interesting next step of the story, and this one did the same. Maybe next time he’ll give us that next step.